PCS reps from the DWP Group Executive Committee met with MPs and MSPs in Glasgow yesterday, to discuss the closure of 8 offices threatened by the Department for Work and Pensions. Representing half of Glasgow jobcentres and affecting thousands of claimants, the closures will force claimants and many staff to travel further to access services, and potentially increase the risk of sanctions. Some claimants have already said publicly they will not be able to afford the second bus many of them will have to take, as reported in the Daily Record.
SNP MPs Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East), Stewart McDonald (Glasgow South), Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) and Chris Stevens (Glasgow South West, and chair of the PCS parliamentary group) attended the meeting, along with Bob Doris (MSP for Maryhill and Springburn) and a member of staff sent by Patrick Grady, MP for Glasgow North. From PCS, GEC Assistant Secretaries Sam Hall, Dave Semple and Ian Pope attended, as did DWP GEC members John McInally and Kevin McCafferty, all of whom are also members of PCS Left Unity.
PCS reps reported on the impact of closures, discussed by PCS members across the Glasgow sites, on claimants and on staff. In particular, staff had noted that though the employer was promising no loss of jobs now, the consolidation of staff into fewer sites would open opportunities for job cuts by stealth. DWP has set aside money for potential redundancies – and has refused the request of the DWP Group Executive Committee to guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies.
MPs reported on the meeting they had held locally with senior DWP managers. Managers admitted that no Equality Impact Assessment had been completed, to look at how those claiming ESA or others with health conditions will be affected. They also confessed that they had calculated travel distances from different postcodes using google maps, from the centre of the postcode, rather than plotting real journeys. Certainly no one had actually undertaken the journeys to appreciate how much additional time a journey might take, should the closures go ahead. This poor approach will help the government duck public consultation on some of the Jobcentres, as they will argue that people don’t have to travel very far to get to a different Jobcentre.
Both MPs and PCS reps discussed the failure of Universal Credit to deliver a workable “digital” service, and the failure of the government to support those who have difficulty accessing the welfare state through digital channels. With work experience staff in Jobcentres routinely being used as unpaid supervisors and assistants to claimants who cannot use a computer unaided, it’s clear that the real goal of the government is to exclude people from the welfare state by putting as many barriers in the way as possible. Reducing the face to face service – which is the long term goal – will help achieve that.
MPs and MSPs have begun working with PCS to put pressure on the government over this unjustified attack on the most vulnerable in society and those civil servants who support them. PCS DWP group officers meet tomorrow to discuss a campaign of opposition, which Glasgow PCS reps will be attempting to tie in with on-going disputes in local government, aimed at defending Glasgow public services. Members meetings at affected sites begin next week, to discuss with staff what should happen next. Every site that wishes to fight for its future will get the full backing of the Left Unity-led PCS DWP Group Executive Committee. MPs meet with the Work and Pensions Secretary – Damian Green – on Thursday.